Any of us who has lived through adolescence has met a mean girl or two along the way. Working in middle schools for more than 20 years has given me enough scientific evidence of the damage one or two mean girls can do that I could fill the pages of Psychology Today over a year’s worth of issues. But what is it about females that cause us to be so likely to eat our own kind? Why does making someone else feel horrible about herself somehow lead to making us feel better?
As you may have already suspected if you read my first post, I developed an eating disorder around the age of 14 that robbed me of the joy of a lot of my high school years. Many of the stories I could tell of the binge-purge cycle are more than I care to share with anyone other than the therapist who eventually led me to a much healthier place both physically and mentally, but there are a few that I have felt needed to be shared for some time. I hope to use those over the weeks and months ahead to fill the pages of this blog in order to provide a context for my desire to challenge all of us to live in authenticity. Those of you who were my friends during my adolescent days, many of whom are still my dearest friends to this day, will likely read some of these things in disbelief. But like any addiction, and the binge-purge cycle certainly falls into that category, secrecy is rule number one and I was a master at hiding what was happening in my life and covering it all up with a smile on my face. Time makes things much easier to talk about and I am certain that I am being called to a season of transparency through these pages.
In the fall of my senior year of high school, after consuming Ex-Lax for breakfast, lunch and dinner for several weeks, I found myself very dehydrated, unable to control my bowels and in severe abdominal pain that I couldn’t bear. My parents, who were completely unaware of what I had been doing to my body for years, were at a loss as to how to help me and I ended up being admitted to the hospital for a number of days for observation. It just so happens that this hospitalization occurred during the week of the first home football game and I had been part of the cheerleading squad, now serving as co-captain, for all four years. I truly loved being a cheerleader (and still love sports) so I was very sorry to start my last year being absent from the opportunity to cheer on the team. As I thought about how I could still somehow be a part of that first game, I decided that my contribution would be to make encouraging notes that I would send back to each player through a couple of my best friends on the team who came to visit me in the hospital. It never dawned on me that some in my school would see that as some kind of “campaign” for homecoming queen votes as the football team did the nominating and voting only a few weeks later.
To make a long story short, after days of IV fluids and being unable to binge and purge, I appeared to be much healthier and was released from the hospital only to find out that I had been selected as homecoming queen by the football team. In almost any other circumstance, this should have been an honor and one of the happiest moments of my life; however, once I returned to school, it didn’t take long for the disapproval of the student body to reach me via the nasty glances and behind my back whispers. I cannot tell you how incredibly grateful I am that social media was not on anyone’s radar at that time, as I am almost certain I would not have survived the smear campaign that would have surely ensued and spread like wildfire. Nonetheless, the rumors quickly moved through the halls with a message that I had manipulated to win and clearly no one would ever have voted for an overweight queen to represent their school in this way. After only a few hours of the school day, I went to our class sponsor, who was also one of my favorite people and role models, and told her I was going to “resign” and to please do whatever needed to happen to let the team vote again. I’ll never forget sitting in her classroom with tears pouring off my face only for her to tell me, “Don’t you dare let anyone steal this moment from you!” I wish I could have channeled her confidence in me and filled my veins with it, but I never could find the joy she felt I deserved. I also knew she wasn’t going to let me out of it.
The ironically awful event reached its pinnacle a few days later when the court was presented to the student body during a pep rally on the day of the big game. As my name was announced in what should have been the highlight of the event, there were “boos” intertwined with “moos” as I was encouraged by the well-meaning adults to walk confidently to the center court of the gymnasium. I can be 100% honest with you when I say that to this day I really have no idea if what I heard was 1 voice or 1000 voices, but that moment haunted me for years to come and left an emotional scar that still has not completely healed. If God had answered my prayers, the floor would have opened up and sucked me into its depths never to be seen again. It was devastatingly humiliating and compounded by the realization that I got to do it all over again only a few hours later. Tradition was that I had the “honor” of parading around the football field on our class float and being escorted to center field at halftime to be crowned in front of a crowd much larger than the one that held the student body alone.
At this point, you have likely surmised that a girl who was eating Ex-Lax like candy was not the most emotionally healthy person and her reality and perception of reality may have been quite different, but I assure you that I am telling this story with absolutely no exaggeration of the way I experienced it that day and the way I have remembered it for over 30 years. I felt so alone, unwanted, embarrassed, and undeserving and for every mean girl voice in the crowd that day, I can guarantee you that the one inside my head was the loudest of them all. Even though I knew in my heart that in no way had I manipulated to get the “title”, I began to question my own motives and wondered if deep down that everything that was being said might have been true to some degree. I agreed with them all, someone much more deserving than me should have been in that dress with that crown on her head. I told myself that some people just aren’t supposed to be queens and clearly this was a role I was not worthy of fulfilling.
Fast forward to the evening events. As I nervously climbed onto the float to take my lap around the field before the game began, I remember thinking, “it will all be over soon”. My goal was to hold my head up, smile through my pain, and get the night over with as quickly as possible. I glanced up to see a full crowd as we started to roll and hoped that the voices of my family and parents of my peers might be kinder than their children had been earlier that day. What happened next still brings tears to my eyes and I will never get over it. I truly believe it’s a large part of the reason I went in to a helping profession and why encouragement is something that I believe can change lives in ways we never know. As my head came up and the fake smile took my own face, my eyes were drawn to the fence in front of the student body. I heard her voice yelling at the top of her lungs before I made out her face, but soon I realized it was one of my dearest friends on her own campaign to make this night special for me, even if she had to do it all alone. As she began to yell, others of my friends began to join her, and soon I had a sincere standing ovation and was immersed in the moment in the way that something like that is supposed to be felt. If you’re picturing a Disney movie or Facebook clip of kids getting it right to make someone else’s world better, then you understand well what I’m trying to describe. It was that kind of moment for me. It didn’t erase the pain of the earlier events, but I knew whatever was to come I was not alone and I had people in my corner who found me deserving.
I am aware that some read this story and might feel pity. Some may doubt that it is all or even partially true (I assure you, it is definitely MY truth). Some may be trying to remember if you were a part of it in any way whether in my same high school or in one of your own. Some may identify with many of the emotions even if the details are much different. Whatever it stirs up in you, I hope to leave you with two take-away thoughts that will challenge you to flip the script in your own life.
The mean girl voice inside your head should never be louder than the mean girl voices in the world. Tell that girl to sit down and shut up!!Who is the person in your life who needs you to be leaning over the fence cheering them on right now? What can you do today to change his or her story because your voice can be heard louder than all the others including their own?
I hope it’s evident that my story has evolved into a happy one, although the journey has been quite long. That mean girl voice loves to get inside my head way more often than I should allow, but I’m blessed by a multitude of encouragers who build me up and quiet her down on a regular basis. That precious friend continued to encourage me for years to come and even introduced me to my husband, so she changed my life for the better in more ways than just on that one day. And finally, because God is so good, I got to enjoy the experience of watching my own daughter be crowned homecoming queen at the very same high school 30 years later with a homecoming theme of “Where the Magic Happens". Her moment was everything it should have been and more. It seems that sometimes we do get our storybook endings after all.
“As far as I am concerned, God turned into good what was meant for evil…..” Genesis 50:20 (The Living Bible translation)